Friday, October 26, 2007

Unintelligent Remarks

Children dancing at a school I visited in Ghana, December 2006.

In a bit of racial irony, I'm celebrating having passed my mid-terms as a first year doctoral student only to hear yet again that I'm not as intelligent as whites. This wisdom comes to me from no less than a pioneer in DNA research. Here are a few samples of the comments of this man as quoted in the New York Times:

A profile of Watson in the Sunday Times Magazine of London quoted him saying that he is "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really."

While he hopes everyone is equal, "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true," Watson is quoted.

"There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically," Watson wrote. "Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so." (Read the whole article here)

In fairness to this man, he did have a sudden epiphany and has apologized for his remarks. This reminds me of a couple of similar comments that I have heard over the years. In one case a co-worker of my mother assured her that her son must have gotten accepted to Harvard because he was a minority because my mother was "not that smart". In another case I was discussing issues of race with a philosophy professor and was told emphatically that "no important philosopher would come out of Africa in the next 20 years." Finally in a lengthy email exchange with a few years ago with someone in the neurosciences, I had to endure the assertion that if relationships had been discovered between race and certain inherited health problems, then why couldn't there be a relationship between race and intelligence. In this case it was a Baha'i that was saying this. My arguments that there was neither scientific evidence nor a single sentence in the Baha'i Writings linking race and intelligence could convince this misguided soul.

That blacks are fundamentally idiots and/or immoral beings has echoed throughout both scientific and popular discourse for centuries now and is a favorite pretext for all number of personal behaviors and public policies that are detrimental to our well being and very survival.
I don't think that it is a coincidence that this story in the Times has come out during the Jena 6 crisis and similar acts of institutional aggression towards black people, especially the young.

The remarks made by this "scientist" are hardly remarkable as they represent a view held by many people, including some blacks themselves! That our various miseries might have something to do with 500 years of enslavement and colonization at the hands of an allegedly superior race seems to not fit into the race=intelligence equation. Of course, perhaps I am not smart of enough to recognize that I'm just inferior.

"Thy day of service is now come. Countless Tablets bear the testimony of the bounties vouchsafed unto thee. Arise for the triumph of My Cause, and, through the power of thine utterance, subdue the hearts of men. Thou must show forth that which will ensure the peace and the well-being of the miserable and the down-trodden. Gird up the loins of thine endeavor, that perchance thou mayest release the captive from his chains, and enable him to attain unto true liberty. Justice is, in this day, bewailing its plight, and Equity groaneth beneath the yoke of oppression. The thick clouds of tyranny have darkened the face of the earth, and enveloped its peoples."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 92)